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Dissection’s Storm of the Light’s Bane Turns 20

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What is it about all things fucked up that draws us to it? Much of metal is, when viewed through a lens of normalcy, fucked up. From oceans of blood that grace many an album cover to rampant, equally gorey misogyny to sacrilegious Jesus beheadings, metal isn’t always the most inviting of genres – or scenes, for that matter.

When it comes to its more “extreme” branches, such as European black metal, there was a time where the artists behind the music were worse than its actual content. Many give early Burzum an occasional spin in spite of Varg being a racist, colleague-stabbing buffoon. We can separate the art from the artist, or at least make strides to do so. Hvis Lyset Tar Oss is abrasive but hypnotizing, and where you would think it leaned towards its creator’s more unsavory personal tastes, it instead longs for Pagan tradition and Tolkien-worship.

Say there is a situation where an artist has committed an act that has the ability to truly hit home with you, personally. Such is the case with Dissection’s Jon Nodtveidt, who, in 1997, was an accessory to the murder of Josef ben Meddour, an Algerian homosexual. This piece is, in essence, a love letter to Dissection’s seminal Storm of the Light’s Bane, which turns 20 today, and it would be remiss of me to not level due and proper criticism on its creator and his crimes.

As an openly gay man, my choice to write about a band with such a clashing history was met with piqued interest, and so I’ve decided to reconcile my liking of Storm of the Light’s Bane, its creator’s crimes and my own sexuality. Can such a crime be ignored? Probably. Nodtveidt’s crime has never bothered me, at least when it comes to how I view Dissection. However, the murder was an awful act, and the underlying sinisterness of it plays into Storm of the Light’s Bane’s tone.

Like most albums I came across in my youth, I found Storm of the Light’s Bane perusing the used metal section of Newbury Comics. I’d glanced at Dissection on the internet during my early forays into the genre, but had never paid them much mind. I snapped up this CD, in its 2006 reissue form, for a decent $10 – it was well spent. It was among a handful of albums in consistent rotation that summer and it has stuck with me since. Storm of the Light’s Bane’s riffs, presentation and tone are what drew me to it, not the actions of its singer, who, coincidentally that same summer, committed suicide.

The icy blues and windswept, horsebacked reaper on its cover captured the spirit of the album. Done by Kristian Wåhlin, whose works include Dissection’s first LP The Somberlain and Emperor’s In the Nightside Eclipse, the cover art juxtaposes pastoral beauty with death in a way that suits the content – folk melodies employed in harsh, mosh-friendly material.

Concerning the tracks themselves, Nodtveidt and crew juxtapose the inherent brute force of death metal with the fluid elegance of black metal, especially on “Night’s Blood” and “Where Dead Angels Lie.” The thrash-like speed of the former track and “Retribution – Storm of the Light’s Bane” bite like a subzero gust that never relents and also sends stabbing drafts throughout the album. Melodic and harmonious, there’s a distinct flamboyance in Nodtveidt’s songwriting that separates his work in Dissection from that of contemporaries, which is why Storm of the Light’s Bane can be seen as a landmark in the areas of melodic black and death metal.

There is an unknowable something that draws us to the dark, though we may not always agree with what we may find there. As a gay man I found an album that appealed to me, though I found its frontman’s past unsavory while finding his art among the best metal has offered. You can separate the art from the artist as long as the artist’s unsavoriness doesn’t bleed over in an overt way. Either way, it didn’t stop me from making one of my first tattoos the Dissection inverted cross.

Nodtveidt’s non-Dissection actions left a sting that, along with the crimes committed by Vikernes and others, stained metal reputation. Granted, said reputation has always prided itself in being unwelcome, though in more theatrical, less harmful ways. In Dissection, we were left with bands that continue that legacy, like Watain, and fans, like myself, that have kept this album at a close but cautious distance.

That tattoo has since been covered up – now it is, perhaps aptly, a xenomorph from Alien.

—Bruce Hardt

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